Maintaining the appearance of one’s feet may seem frivolous to some, but proper foot care is an important component of an elder’s overall health. Certain symptoms and podiatric issues can indicate more serious underlying conditions and can also affect a person’s mobility and quality of life.

It can be difficult for seniors with limited range of motion to give their feet, ankles and lower legs the care they need, so this aspect of personal care often falls to their family caregivers. However, something as simple as improperly trimming a loved one’s toenails can cause pain and even infection. For most seniors, adequate foot health involves more than a regular pedicure at the salon.

It can be difficult and occasionally stomach-turning to handle a loved one’s foot care. For those caregivers who wish to outsource this job, deciding whether to go to a doctor’s office or a salon can be confusing. Veteran caregivers offer their best advice on how to care for a loved one’s feet, whether they just need some aesthetic help, or they are affected by a more serious podiatric condition, such as arthritis, neuropathy or poor circulation in the feet.

Deciding Whether to Go to the Doctor or a Salon for Foot Care

“Take your loved one for a spa pedicure every two months. For about $35, they exfoliate the feet, trim the nails and cuticles, prevent fungus and salt scrub the calves. Oh, and your loved one will LOVE the massage chair. I took my hubby once and now he’s asking, ‘Isn’t it time for our pedicure?’ ” –pamstegma

“I would be careful when selecting a salon to do pedicures (especially if your loved one has diabetes). Many diabetics develop nail and other fungal issues. In this case, use only a podiatrist! Older folks have suppressed immune systems and I even know a friend who got MRSA from a salon. She was 27 and almost lost a foot! I am an RN and deal with this a lot.” –mary111

“When we were searching for a new podiatrist, I got lists of all the podiatrists at the hospital we use and called them one by one with my checklist. Most of them were quickly eliminated. Dad’s current podiatrist ALWAYS checks for pedal pulse and skin integrity, making recommendations if appropriate. Her assistants prep the foot with little gauze pads between the toes, the doctor does the trimming and scraping of any excess growth on the top of the nails, then the assistant does some lotion application, etc. It’s more like a spa treatment than just toenail clipping. She’s the first one who’s ever done that. If you do decide to go to a doctor’s office, ask what services accompany the nail trimming. For older feet, I think it’s always a good idea to check for pedal pulse and circulation issues.” –gardenartist

“I took Dad to the podiatrist recommended by his primary care physician, but this podiatrist informed us that he ‘doesn’t do toenails’! Luckily for us, the local VA clinic DOES ‘do’ toenails, and Dad qualifies for some services there as a WWII vet. In fact, it is looking like the VA is going to be the better choice for all those icky-picky little things, if not his overall care. They have some good programs for helping vets age in place as long as possible.” –1500miles

“Pedicurists do it all the time, even though it is illegal for them to work on feet that are infected, whether bacterial or fungal. Furthermore, it is never a good idea to have one’s feet worked on by anyone other than a podiatrist if there’s ANY circulatory conditions present, such as diabetes, venous insufficiency, peripheral artery disease, etc.” –CarolLynn

“My 83-year-old father is on blood thinners and HAS to go to a podiatrist. In the event he cut himself, he would be in serious trouble. Medicare pays for it, and I know he will get them done safely.” –samsmom43

“If your loved one is diabetic and has neuropathy and you take them to a salon, the salon needs to know about their conditions. Not all salons are created equal when it comes to dealing with diabetic feet. If the pedicurist buffs too hard and your loved one can’t feel if they get hurt, they’re going to have more problems with a potential infection than just having long toe nails.” –NancyH

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“I live in Jacksonville, FL, and there are some places that offer a ‘medical pedicure’ done by a podiatrist. It is done in a salon and my mom gets to sit in the chair and soak her feet in bubbly water. The podiatrist then trims up her toenails and files them down. Of course, she has thick nails. It costs about $45.00 and the doctor does not accept tips. It’s a treat for her because it’s more like a regular pedicure instead of having a podiatrist just clip her toenails, and she gets pampered.” –GayleinJaxFL

“I am my mum’s live-in caregiver and I have an LPN foot care nurse come to the house every eight weeks to take care of my mum’s toenails. Mum has a good foot soak, then the grinding wheel to file the nails because they are so thick and then a foot massage. If they are done every eight weeks, they won’t be so difficult to do every time.” –anonymous182580

“Many older people are unable to safely care for their toenails. Medicare covers podiatrist care if the need is properly documented, and these professionals have the skills and implements to do the job without causing any further injury. This is most important for diabetics, but common sense for people who cannot see well or reach their feet to work safely. Sterile conditions are also important.” –hessaw

“The local senior center here has a ‘toe nail clinic’ once a month. Call your local Area Agency on Aging and see if they know of any senior centers, day care programs or other sites that have ‘toe nail clinics’ or a similar program. If so, you could make a lunch out of it as well and introduce your loved one (if they don’t go already) to the wonderful folks at your local senior center or adult day care center.” –HelenM

“I think seniors’ toenails get thick if not cut/trimmed regularly. My mom’s nails are thicker and yellower than I ever recall seeing. I never even thought of toe nails or foot care when it came to caring for mom. Then one day I noticed that one of her toenails curves and punctures the skin on her toe. The pedicure place costs less than a podiatrist, so I took mom for one and she is now healed. If this had not corrected the issue, I would have taken her to a doctor. Now I take her regularly every other month or so for a pedicure. I always look at her toes now.” –momhouseme